Monday, February 29, 2016

Polarization

If my thinking and emotions are polarized in any direction other than my Lord Jesus and love for my fellow man then I need to reorient that to which I’m attracted. An election year often reveals our true polarization…assuming we will see it for what it is. “Thou shalt have no others gods before Me.” 

Israel functionally said, “Yes but.” 

Do we?

Friday, February 26, 2016

Waverly – Part 2


Tornados have a randomness about them that causes particular uneasiness. Why is it over there and not over here? Might it move in this direction? Will another uninvited intruder drop down from the sky? Where is the best place to wait this out? What about the people I love?

The two adults and one child killed in Waverly were living in a trailer; while most all dwellings are vulnerable to a tornado, a trailer is especially vulnerable – it is not anchored to the earth the way a house is – the trailer can not only be moved away by a truck, it can be carried away by a tornado.

From now on when I drive through Waverly I’ll think of the tornado; I’m sure others will do the same. If someone is in the car the driver and passenger will talk about the damage and the death, if it is a lone driver he will perhaps ponder the little town with the extensive damage and loss of life. Ivan, the two-year old toddler, probably never pondered the meaning of life, let alone what he was going to do the next day, let alone what he was going to do the next hour. His mother survived, now she will ponder the “what ifs” of a day when tragedy struck.

Of course other people have died in Waverly on other days and will continue to do so, and other citizens of Waverly have gone elsewhere to die and will continue to do so. Dying is what we all do and it is usually what we all deny – we live in perpetual denial of death and save for the occasional funeral home ad on television or on a restaurant’s paper placemat, there isn’t much advertising about it. The advertising isn’t always directed toward the one who is going to die, it’s often directed to those left behind who will need comfort. When it is directed to the one who is going to die it is framed in terms of planning our funeral and prepaying for it for the benefit of our loved ones. I’ve never seen a hyper pitchman for a funeral home, I’ve never seen big neon lights on a funeral home sign shouting, “Attention, one day you will die – have you thought about it?” Even the way funeral homes are built and landscaped is such as to not draw attention, and when you do notice them with their somber institutional appearance you either want to speed up and get by them or slow down so they won’t see you and reach out and grab you.

Why is that we talk about what we’ll do on vacation, what our plans are for the Christmas holidays, or the dream vacation we’d like to take, but we don’t talk about this fact of life that we will all experience?

The writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus came to deliver us who have lived in the fear of death – for Jesus conquered death and those who come to know Him share in His victory over death so that they should no longer live in fear. Paul writes that Jesus abolished death – death in its eternal form – and has brought life and immortality to light through the good news of Jesus. One day death in all its forms will be destroyed – and what a day that will be.

Yes, there is a sadness about death, and there is grief, and there can be shock and deep pain – but in Christ there is also hope and comfort and the resurrection. After all, if Jesus Christ and Easter are true then they mean everything, but if they aren’t true then death is simply the end of life and we are no more than a bunch of random accidents without purpose and we are fools to think otherwise. I’ve know people who have tried to convince themselves that life has no meaning beyond the immediate, but I’ve yet to meet anyone who actually lives that way…though perhaps we’re getting close to that as a society.

The tragedy in Waverly isn’t about bunches of organic material in the form of people who are no longer with those who love them – people made in the image of God died.


Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me, though he is dead, yet will he live.”

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Waverly


Yesterday was quite the tornado day for many in the South and East, including our region of Virginia. We don’t get many tornados in the Richmond region, and we seldom get tornados in February – let’s hope that yesterday will remain an exception as opposed to being the start of a trend.

Tornados took the lives of four Virginians yesterday, one was in Appomattox and the other three in Waverly. Waverly has about two thousand people, and it lies on Route 460 and is known as “one of those towns you pass through if you’re traveling to Virginia Beach or the Outer Banks”. Travelers don’t generally stop in Waverly, if they need a break from driving to the beach their sights are generally set on Wakefield, the next town east of Waverly, or Windsor, the town beyond Wakefield. Wakefield is home to the popular Virginia Dinner, and Windsor has a Dairy Queen if you need a Blizzard fix. Smart folks drive the speed limit through Waverly, just as they do through all the towns on Route 460 – when the speed limit drops you need to pay attention because if you ain’t watching the speed limit you can be sure that a fella in a car with a bubble on top is watching you.

If you are headed home from the beach and you haven’t stopped by the time you get to Waverly you might as well wait until you get through Disputanta and then stop around I-295 or I-95.

There is something to be said for slowing down in these little towns; little towns are meant to be driven through slowly. People coming from the north of the James River and who are in a hurry think that by taking I-64 they will get to the beach faster than taking Route 460 – sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t When they don’t it’s because there was an accident on I-64 (a common occurrence) or an accident on a bridge or in a tunnel around Hampton Roads – then you don’t slow down like you do when driving through a small town…then you just stop like you do when you are parking your car.


I don’t mind slowing down in Disputanta or Waverly or Wakefield or Windsor, you get to notice things you may have missed before, and it’s a good reminder that there are still folks who have the good sense to live somewhere where road rage is a dog chasing a car and not a fool trying to kill you.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Three Harrys – Haslam, Heintz, and Hanger: Part 1



I’ve known three Harrys with last names beginning with H; there isn’t anything significant about this other than there are times when I think about them together. Perhaps you’ve known three Franks whose last names begin with F, or three Susans whose last names begin with S, or maybe you’ve known three dogs named Prince whose owners’ last names begin with P.

When I think about them together I think about the season of life I was in when I met each one; I was in my late 20s when I met Harry Haslam and in the residential construction industry; I was in my late 40s when I met Harry Heintz and was at theological seminary, and I was nearing my 60th birthday when I met Harry Hanger and was in a time of challenging transition from pastoral ministry back into business.

Harry Haslam was my boss at US Home Corporation, at the time one of the largest residential home builders in the United States. I went to work for Harry as the construction coordinator of the townhouse project he was building. I scheduled contractors, ordered materials, authorized the payment of invoices, and helped supervise the job. Harry was the superintendent and he was a nice guy. In a business with lots of gruff and aggressive people Harry Haslam was a nice guy. He treated me well, his disposition was professional, he was considerate, and whether you were in management or were a laborer he gave you his respectful attention.

This particular Harry was a bit too easy going and trusting at times; I recall that when I first arrived at the job that there was a group of laborers who were lazy. They pretty much did what they wanted and I guess Harry was so busy with higher-end matters that he didn’t notice that he wasn’t getting what he was paying for. It could also be that Harry didn’t want to deal with confrontation – for he was a nice guy and laid back. This isn’t to say that Harry didn’t know what confrontation was for he had been in the midst of life and death confrontation in Vietnam...more on that in a moment. I was blessed that Harry was trusting in that he trusted me, he gave me room to do my job and to grow.

After being at the project a short time and observing the situation with the laborers I suggested to Harry that we needed to make a personnel change, and with his authorization we did, freeing the laborers up to seek employment elsewhere – no doubt they sought jobs that did not require punctuality or actual work, having grown accustomed to doing what they wanted when they wanted. Looking back on this with the perspective of decades I see that my suggestion to Harry fits the pattern of my career – identifying incongruous situations and doing something about it – a trait not always appreciated or tolerated. In business this is why I have worked better with entrepreneurs than in rigid corporate environments, in vocational ministry this is why para-church ministries are often more comfortable with me than churches.

As I mentioned Harry was in Vietnam, this was not the Vietnam of today that is open to tourists from the United States, it was war and Harry was a part of that war. I remember Harry telling me that his unit was once sent into a neighboring country (I can’t recall if it was Laos or Cambodia) on a mission and told that if they ran into trouble that they were on their own. I know these things happen, sending people into places where “we” aren’t supposed to be, I guess that’s part of running the government – you can’t tell everyone everything.

I was thinking about Vietnam the other day and about the college deferment provision in the draft. I’ve read that the average US soldier in Vietnam was 19 years old, from a poor or working-class family, who had not attended college. It is said that only about twenty percent of the soldiers were middle class men, with few upper middle class soldiers. Imagine, if you were in college you had a draft deferral, but if you lived in an urban ghetto or were dirt poor living in a hollow in the Blue Ridge Mountains then you’d better get your living done as soon as possible because you just didn’t know when the notice would come in the mail telling you that your uncle required your presence.


But back to Harry Haslam; he was a really nice guy. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Elijah and the Grill


It had been a while since we last used our gas grill, so when I smelled a whiff of gas yesterday I was cautious but not overly concerned. The grill has six burners but I normally only use three burners, and the three burners I was using looked good, the flame was evenly distributed; and of course I was hungry. The other three burners were off, and the side burners were off; so I thought the gas smell just must be because we hadn’t used it for a while.

The above being said, or rather written, I still paid attention to the grill. I opened the lid more than usual to see if anything was amiss. Once it seemed as if the gas smell was gone, but then back it came. Finally the turkey burgers were done.

After dinner I said to Vickie, “I’m not sure if we should use the grill right now. There was a gas smell while I was cooking. On the other hand, I am insured and I guess I could go to heaven like Elijah in flames of fire” (who needs a fiery chariot and horses when one can travel by grill?).

Vickie replied, “I don’t think that would be a good idea.”

There she goes again, not letting me get into trouble and hurt myself; though she could have been thinking about the damage to the house should the wood deck catch on fire and the fire spread.

But think of it, there is Saint Peter at the gates, talking with Elijah about Elijah’s fiery transit to heaven. Peter says, “I wish I could have been there to see it when you arrived” (Peter lived a few hundred years after Elijah). Noah is listening to the conversation and he says, “Oh it was something, we’ll never see an entrance like that again.”


Then here I come, riding on a grill engulfed in flames of fire! I land right outside the pearly gates. Noah looks at Peter and Elijah and says, “Never say never.”

Friday, February 19, 2016

Ignoring Death

       
I am continually amazed at how we ignore death. We pretend it isn’t there. When we do acknowledge it we revert to illusionary phrases such as, “He who dies with the most toys wins”; “He’s in a better place”; “Didn’t she look nice?”; “When you’re dead you’re dead”.


We spend more time and thought researching the purchase of a car than we do considering the certainty of death. If Jesus is who He claims to be then Good Friday and Easter mean everything; if He is not then they mean nothing. There is no middle ground. If we think that Easter is a hoax (and the evidence strongly suggests it is not a hoax) and we are wrong, we cannot return the purchase we made – we are stuck with the decision. Once we drive the car off the lot the deal is done and we cannot go back. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Ducks and Chickens and Candy – Oh Really?



As a child Easter meant baby ducks and chickens and candy. Why did my parents not tell me about the Resurrection? One year my brother received a baby chicken and I received a baby duck. The chicken went to live on Uncle Caskie’s farm. My duck died after a short time at home. I cried and cried over my duck. I went to school crying. Death had visited my little boy’s heart. Oh that my parents had taken that opportunity to tell me of the Resurrection and give me hope. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Crucifixion on Audio in the Car

I sometimes listen to the Bible in the car; but there is one section that I cannot listen to in the car and that is the Crucifixion in the Gospels. A year or so ago I was approaching the bridge over the James River on Route 288, listening to a Gospel, when I came to the betrayal and Crucifixion. I realized that I had to turn it off – I could not listen to that sacred account without giving it my full attention, and I could not give it my full attention while driving. That is one section of the Bible that must never run in the background when I encounter it – it must have the attention of my entire soul. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Another Thought for Lent



If Jesus Christ gave Himself up for me, then shouldn’t I give myself up for Him? After all, Jesus did a bit more than deny Himself breakfast, lunch, and dinner on Good Friday. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

A Thought for Lent

Lately I’ve been around folks discussing what they’ve given up for Lent. It occurs to me that if I am to give up something, something meaningful to me, that perhaps it should be myself. 

Friday, February 12, 2016

A Fool’s Wrath and Politics


“A fool’s wrath is known at once…” Proverbs 12:16.

“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable…” James 3:17.


If we vote for people who reflect us, who are in our image, then I think we should look in the mirror of God’s Word and ask ourselves just what we are doing, just who we have become. Is this the fruit of talk radio, which of course only serves up what we will consume? Is it the fruit of talking heads with sarcasm and vitriol on television that appeal to our baser instincts? 

The Christian has no excuse to live a life of anger, no justification – we are called to be peacemakers. Violence and anger will slay a society; we ought to fear it more than we fear a biological pandemic –we ought to distance ourselves from its toxicity; but it has become a way of life.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Uncashed Lottery Ticket

As the clock struck 5:00 PM in California on February 4, 2016, sixty-three million dollars went unclaimed in the state lottery. Signs were up in stores, in the form of a check, in which on the “Pay To” line was the question, “Is It You?” No one claimed the winnings.

Someone purchased a lottery ticket that he or she did not present for winnings. Maybe it was thrown out in the trash, maybe it was soaked beyond legibility in the clothes washer, maybe it lies somewhere in a purse or pants pocket, maybe it rests beneath the seat of a car. Lottery officials know where the ticket was purchased on August 8, 2015 and they’ve advertised the date and location of purchase. There is a person who says he purchased the ticket but that he lost it; the lottery rules state that you must have the physical ticket to win.

While we may think it a shame that someone who purchased a lottery ticket did not receive his sixty-three million dollars in winnings, this means nothing when compared to the free gift of eternal life which Jesus Christ purchased for all of us. Jesus did not ask us to play a game of chance in order to return to the God who created us; He did not ask us to earn our way back into a relationship with the God who loves us; neither Jesus nor His Father wanted us to be in a situation where the assurance of our redemption and restoration could be in doubt – and so God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

Jesus came for us, lived for us, suffered the penalty of our sin for us, died for us, rose for us, and comes again into our lives because we could do nothing to bring ourselves back into a relationship with our Father – we could not even spend a dollar for a ticket – we had and have no ability whatsoever to rise from spiritual death, to cleanse ourselves from our sin, and to find our way back into an intimate relationship with God. We all have a cancer that we cannot cure.

Sadly, many of us ignore God’s offer of love and life; many of us never accept the gift of eternal life that Jesus purchased for us. Sadly, many of us who have accepted that gift never share it with others, we never tell them that Gods loves them so much that His Son purchased the greatest gift of all for them – freedom from sin, freedom from death, and an intimate relationship with God forever and forever.


If we were the friend of the person who purchased the ticket for sixty-three million dollars in lottery winnings, and we knew where the ticket was, would we not tell our friend? How much more ought we to tell others of the amazing gift of eternal life which Jesus Christ has purchased for them.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

A Fool’s Ethics

      
I went to an ethics course and found emptiness. How can one teach ethics, or learn ethics, when there is no constant ethical benchmark by which to compare thinking and behavior?

The course should have been titled, “Adherence to Housing Law”, or “Maintaining Professional Standards As They Are Currently Required In Property Management.” The course content changes with each legislative year, it changes as society changes; what is in fashion today may not be in fashion tomorrow. There is no constant benchmark, no ethical system to which one can look – at least in the context of this course.

We have drifted so far from ethical considerations that we no longer know that we have no ethics. The organization which requires this course no doubt thinks it is taking the high road, it doesn’t know that the course content and title confirm that it has taken the low road – what is ethical today must be ethical tomorrow, otherwise we have nothing by which to navigate. They should rename the course and not pretend that there is such a thing as ethics. The fa├žade should go.


When there is no longer right or wrong, good or evil…how can there possibly be ethics?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A Masked Ball

I realize that we can’t lay the blame entirely on advertising, the blame must be on us all collectively, but since most advertising has little to do with the actual product – the industry has done an admirable job in teaching us to avoid critical issues, not think things through, not ask questions, and sidestep the unpleasant.

Perhaps advertising is only superseded in this respect by the spin doctors of corporations and politicians. We are being tutored in lying and subterfuge to the point that the truth is alien to our thinking. The idea that “perception is reality” is a fool’s mantra – a day of reckoning will come, sooner or later.

“Perception is reality” leads to deception, which leads to more deception, which leads to more deception – who can we believe when everyone lies? We justify our deception under the ideas of advertising, marketing, spinning a narrative – the ends justify the means…but neither the ends nor the means are worthy of pursuit.


We are at a masked ball – but the dancers have forgotten who they really are. When the ball ends they won’t know where to go home to, for they no longer have homes…they are homeless and restless…

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Kenny Sailors and the Jump Shot


It’s hard to believe that basketball didn’t have the jump shot until the 1930s or 40s. The man who invented it (or popularized it…as the case may be), Kenny Sailors, died on January 30 at 95 years old. Imagine playing basketball without the jump shot. While there are a few men whose fans claim that they invented the jump shot (I guess we’ll never know), the point is that at one time there was not only no jump shot, but when the early proponents of the jump shot tried it they were criticized by players and fans and at least one player was benched by his coach.

Consider the following from a New York Times article: Players made one-handed, leaping layups and left their feet to rebound or block shots. But no one more than five feet from the hoop who faced the basket would lift two feet to shoot the ball. And if someone did, he would be ridiculed or scolded into conformity.

This of reminds me of playing the game of life, especially the Christian life, without submitting to the Holy Spirit and allowing Him to animate our lives – our feet never leave the earth when we try to put the ball in the net – we live flatfooted. The early proponents of the jump shot tried it so they could shoot over taller players; they didn’t accept the idea that just because a player guarding them was taller that they couldn’t shoot over them.


How often do we convince ourselves that we can’t do something because the obstacle in our way is bigger or taller than we are? 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Leadership Without Gravitas


I am too quick to judge. Of course, if someone has sprinkled rat poison on my pancake it may be that being quick to judge is helpful.

I was at what I thought was a business event, instead I had a throwback to kindergarten – except that my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Jingles (yes, that was her name), could lead us in games because she had gravitas about her – we learned and we played and we knew who the teacher was. She, in her own way, inspired us.

When leaders can no longer inspire they entertain or they make lots of noise and commotion – or they do it all at once. Instead of vision we have entertainment. Sustained vision requires sustained thinking…no wonder there is no long-term vision to be found.


As I reflected on the business event I realized that what I saw is what the attendees see from leaders every day – religious leaders, political leaders, business leaders. The attendees were mimicking their culture, and sadly perpetuating it. Too bad Mrs. Jingles isn’t still around.